Lafayette to announce decision on vaccine mandate in coming weeks

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In the strive for more normal campus operations, herd immunity through vaccines has been the recommended way forward. (Photo by Caroline Burns ’22)

Michael Antonacci

With increasing calls for students to get vaccinated, many colleges and universities across the country have announced that they will require COVID-19 vaccinations to return to campus for the Fall 2021 semester. Lafayette College has yet to announce its plans, but the decision is expected to be communicated in the coming weeks.

Nearby institutions that have announced vaccine mandates include Franklin and Marshall College, Muhlenberg College, Bucknell University, Haverford College, Swarthmore College, the University of Pennsylvania and Lehigh University.

“The University has decided that a COVID vaccine will be required this fall for all Lehigh undergraduate and graduate students participating in on-campus programs and activities,” the message sent to Lehigh students on April 21 said. “All students accessing campus will be subject to this requirement, but it will not apply to students participating in programs that are fully online or which never meet on campus.”

“We have been considering the issue of requiring the vaccine since it became widely available,” Annette Diorio, vice president for campus life at Lafayette, said. “Vaccines are a critical piece of the strategy to return to as close to pre-pandemic operations as possible.” 

Diorio emphasized the desire from everybody across campus for as normal a semester as possible and noted that this has been a large factor in the administration’s decision making.

“Returning student experiences to as normal as possible has been heavily weighing into our discussions, but we are well aware that there is not a universal viewpoint about the COVID vaccines,” Diorio said.

Dr. Jeffrey Goldstein, director of health services, echoed Diorio in the desire for a typical campus life.

“The health and safety of our students, of our internal Lafayette community, and also the community that we live in is number one in terms of the decision-making process,” Goldstein said. “Right below that is creating a pathway to facilitate a normal campus operation.”

Other institutions that have implemented a COVID- 19 mandate for the fall have noted that they will allow for students to exempt themselves with reason.

“Exemptions will be available only in limited cases of a verified medical contraindication for the COVID-19 vaccine or of a religious belief or practice that conflicts with the COVID-19 immunization requirement. General philosophical or moral objections to the COVID-19 vaccine do not qualify for an exemption,” the message from Bucknell said.

Diorio made sure to note that there is a process in place for students to request exemption from any vaccine that the College requires and that this would extend to future vaccines, including the COVID- 19 vaccine, should it become mandatory.

Another factor in decisions regarding whether or not to require the vaccine is the stress that the pandemic has brought about this past year. Goldstein asserted that a return to normal operations would relieve the difficulty that students, faculty and staff have endured over the last 14 months.

“The pathway to normal operations revolves around herd immunity. Once we achieve real herd immunity, then life on campus should return to normal in the fall. Many of the safety precautions that are currently being taken will no longer be needed,” Goldstein said. “The use of testing will probably be limited to diagnostic testing, to folks who have symptoms.

“We would like to not do a lot of the things that we needed to do throughout the year to keep the campus safe, especially regarding quarantine and restrictions on social activities and classroom experiences,” he noted.

Proponents of vaccine mandates cite the numerous studies showing that the vaccines are extremely safe and effective and that each still had to undergo a rigorous process to be granted emergency use authorization. Returning to normal and attaining herd immunity are also crucial reasons for those who support mandates.

According to a CNBC interview with Dr. Anthony Fauci, between 75- 85% of the population should be vaccinated in order to achieve herd immunity and adequately protect everybody against COVID- 19.

The Lafayette COVID- 19 dashboard reports that 59% of students have been vaccinated through campus, but there are likely many more students that have been vaccinated outside of Lafayette.